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Seafarers susceptible to mental illness on long treks

Not only do seafarers face physical struggles on the job, they encounter mental struggles as well. Anxiety and depression often emerge. Seafarers are confronted with working long hours leading to fatigue, exhaustion, boredom, burnout and isolation. Separation from families for lengthy periods, bullying from supervisors and harassment from peers also contribute. As if the daily grind of the job was not enough.

Take into consideration the predicaments of the estimated 200,000 seafarers currently stranded at sea because crew changes are not possible due to COVID-19 pandemic concerns. The situation has turned into a humanitarian crisis, affecting seafarers and their families around the world.

Survey uncovers depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide

A challenge that seafarers face is lack of mental health care on their vessels. A recent study in which nearly 1,600 seafarers participated confirms that mental health remains a concern. According to an October 2019 study performed by Yale University and commissioned by the ITF Seafarers’ Trust:

  • Roughly 25% of the seafarers who answered questions about patient health had scores implying they suffered from depression.
  • Roughly 17% of the respondents of an anxiety disorder questionnaire had anxiety.
  • Roughly 20% of the seafarers considered suicide during the two weeks before taking the survey.
  • Depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide increased their chances of leaving their jobs in the next six months.
  • Extended voyages contributed to the higher risk of mental health issues.

The Yale study suggests that shipping companies can address these issues by improving training, destigmatizing mental illness within the shipping industry and addressing workplace violence issues.

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